Amir Sulaiman is a spoken-word artist who distorts the tangent between being a poet and a rapper. Some may say that this new generation of artists arising within the genre of hip-hop have accompanied their art with some sort of clarity to the line which separates a rapper from a poet. I think I’d agree. Amir Sulaiman, on the contrary, calls back to the time when the line was seemingly continuously blurred. The manner in which he delivers his prudently selected words, coupled with the humility and strength which relishes from his art, Amir is able to emphasize the fact that he possesses the same energy and passion that can be felt within the music of the likes of KRS-One, Public Enemy and perhaps most correspondingly Saul Williams. Within all of his art, the power to inspire is not only put on display by Amir, but manifested with austere virtuosity and this new album is definitely no different.
The Opening is powerful. From start to finish, it’s powerful. The album propagates an abundance of emotions and personal anecdotes and by the end of it you really have a feel for who Amir Sulaiman is (something that I personally love to see from all artists; an honest investment of themselves into their art). He creates a strong personal relationship with his audience with his raw and spiritual poetic-style, building on our energy as much as we build from his. He’s not confronting us or speaking to us, he’s speaking with us. It all results in a deeply rich listening experience, perhaps, for some, out of their comfort zones, but nevertheless powerful and, in my opinion, very rewarding.
The album starts off in a furious manner, commanding the listener’s attention from the get go. On the opening track, “True + Living”, Sulaiman touches on issues such as race, death, religion, identity, unity and pain – all of which are salient reoccurring topics throughout the album. On the second track of the album, “Kingdom”, Sulaiman constructs a vivid and confronting track about both pain and identity, which is spoken over a hauntingly beautiful piano ballad laced with a flugelhorn and melancholy strings supplied by Radiohead from their song “Codex”. He starts off by saying, “Kingdoms overthrown, young kings dying over thrones The crown of thorns with the rose-gold overtones The beef is tough, it’s over doneIt’s over DoneFat lady finna singing, no publishing, no royaltiesIt’s overdoneWho will speak for our queens Our royalty died for free, our royalty died for free-domWe dumb.” From there the song continues to build and becomes further engaging, challenging any listener with Sulaiman’s impeccable use of word play and off-kilter storytelling: “It was all sirens, yet all silentThe fat lady singing, and his mama screamingIn harmony, without melodyMy malady maddening, out of the paramedics haps a pair of medicsBut there ain’t no Jesus, and he ain’t no Lazarus. “
The most accessible song on the album to a general rap fan arises four tracks in, called “Whatever you Want” featuring Quadir Lateef. Amir throws up an energetic track over a Bob James sample that Danny Brown fans would recognize off “Pac Blood”. Whilst at first I quite liked the idea of Amir really going in over a genuine head-knocking beat, the end product of this particular song is unfortunately somewhat underwhelming. The song just isn’t as powerful and attention grabbing as the rest of the album. Fortunately, the very next song, “Dope”, reassures us that perhaps the previous track was just an anomaly among the bunch with Amir again going in over a great head-knocking beat only this time in a genuinely raw, hungry and just overall enjoyable manner.
On the track “The Opening – I & Eye” (which uses the same beat as a previous song “The Opening- Night & Day” creating a link so as to accompany the anecdotal styles on both songs), Amir paints an extremely introspective, pondering yet captivating tale via recounting a random encounter he had with a fan. The man recognises Amir and tells him about the injustices throughout his life; recounting a story of his days fighting in WWII for a so called “freedom”, yet ironically on his return, due to his race, he was not allowed to even “swim in a public swimming pool”. As the song progresses, the man sheds insight into how he manages to “get through” each day despite the adversity from his own people. He shares some wisdom that was once told to him: “Your whole life is an interlude, between what your ancestors put into you and how your descendants depend on you, but through them you’ll live forever and ever, so if you’re only ever into you, then that’s the end of you”. Amir goes on to skilfully mend the fan’s story and develop his song by utilizing an extended metaphor of an eye (hence the title of the song) to elucidate the fan and the conversation being retold. He says “Around his iris was a ring of indigoSo his eyes were black brown with a thin rim tinted blue” and furthers the metaphor and the aforementioned “wisdom” by preaching with his audience to gain education and knowledge through actually experiencing life: “be a student of your pupil and let the truth school you”. The song fades out with a colloquial conversation between the two, hence, subtly yet significantly allowing the listeners an opportunity to contemplate what they have just heard whilst supplying a dose of casualness to a very delicate song.
Perhaps the most ponderous, fervent and absorbing song on the album is the closing track, “Come to the Hills” featuring Drea D’Nur. It is easily my personal favourite off The Opening. Uneasy to digest, it is a highly passionate, highly emotional, penetrating and righteous song which sees Amir powerfully confronting listeners directly from the heart. He talks about topics ranging from the death of Emmett Till to the rapacious nature of humans to the symbolic emasculation of black men in America. Amir pleads with his audience to learn from history to “see the future”. He questions the materialistic ways of humans and why we don’t appreciate the minute things in life or why we feel the need to have conversation after conversation about our “top 5 dead or alive” but ignore discussions about “the top 1% in the bottom 99, or the wise 5-percent in the deaf, dumb and blind eighty-five and how the circle seven and the one-twenty saved our lives”. The power and humility propagating from the voice of Amir portrays that he is not shouting down upon his listeners from a high mantel piece. No, he’s in the dugouts with everybody else. He represents exactly who he’s fighting for, exactly who he’s speaking to and showcases exactly who he is.
This is not the sort of music you can just put on in the background, nor is it music to jam to. And it’s not intended to be. This is music that demands and draws your strictest attention. Inspiring, challenging, provoking, ardent…it is all these and more. In a generation which unfortunately carries labels such as “uninterested” or “too self-indolent”, Amir Sulaiman pushes the limits of his powerful art form to bring forth and shed light to his audience on what is really going on in the world around us.
Sure, there’s a lot to take in, but if you’re willing to be pushed out of your comfort zone and be intellectually and emotionally challenged then this is definitely an album for you. You can grab it from Sulaiman’s bandcamp completely for FREE here!
“The Opening” was released on October 15th, 2013 and is Amir Sulaiman’s forth full length project. You can check out his discography at his website here (minus his 2007 album “Like a Thief in the Night”), and also download his other projects that he has released, which too are for free!
The opinions and views expressed here are the opinions of the designated author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or views of any of the individual members of Dead End Hip Hop.